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Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.

A  portrait, its provenance and history...

Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.

A  portrait, its provenance and history...

The Rice Portrait of 

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JANE AUSTEN, UNCLE FRANCIS AND OZIAS HUMPHRY AT SEAL, 1788

The following is an excerpt from Terry Townsend's forthcoming book, 'Jane Austen's Kent,' due to be published on 9th of June 2015. Click Here to see more.

 

Mr Townsend's research proves to be of great importance to the Rice Portrait, inasmuch as it shows that a clear connection existed between Ozias Humphry and the Austen family in 1788, when we believe Humphry's portrait of Jane as a young girl was initiated. We are most grateful to the author for allowing us to place this preview on our website. His book is an entertaining and lively guide to the Kentish places that are so significant in the Austen family history, and we strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the real life of Jane herself.

 

 

On the 17 December 1775 Rev’d George Austen sat at his desk in the bow-windowed study of the

Steventon rectory and began a letter to his sister-in-law Susannah Walter announcing the birth of his

daughter Jane: ‘Last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon

happily over. We now have another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion.

She is to be Jenny…’

 

Susannah Walter was the wife of William Hampson Walter, George’s half-brother, born to George’s

mother Rebecca during her first marriage to William Walter. Between 1785 and 1811, William Hampson

Walter and his family lived in Church Street, Seal, possibly in the Grey House. The Walters were always

on very friendly terms with Jane’s family and during the 1788 visit to Sevenoaks the Austens called on their

step-relations at nearby Seal.

 

Susannah Walter née Weaver came from Maidstone and bore her husband seven children. The eldest,

Weaver, went on to become head boy at Tonbridge School and curate for Penshurst in 1799 where he married two years later.

 

The youngest child Philadelphia, born in 1761, was closest in age to Jane. Known in the family as Phylly, it is her letter to her

cousin Eliza that provides us with the first account of Jane’s visit to Kent. Phylly married George Whitaker of Pembury

late in her life and had no children.

 

An interesting Austen connection with the village of Seal involves Reverend William Humphrey. He was the younger

brother of the artist Ozias Humphrey (he preferred Humphry) who painted portraits of Uncle Francis and the Duke

of Dorset plus the portrait purported to be of the young Jane Austen.

 

William, who was rector of the adjacent village of Kemsing, had married Elizabeth Woodgate the daughter of a

prominent Kentish family from Pembury. Ozias had petitioned the Duke of Dorset to give his brother the additional

living at Seal, which was in his gift. The Duke reprimanded Ozias for importuning him over the matter, but having

informed him that ‘Dukes never forget’, he did indeed present William with the living and made him his personal chaplain.

In addition to obtaining the patronage of the Duke, Ozias also assisted William financially when he married Elizabeth

Woodgate, and he was very fond of his many nephews and nieces.

 

Ozias travelled to Italy in 1773 with his great friend George Romney, stopping en route

at Knole where the Duke of Dorset commissioned several works from him. His stay in

Italy lasted until 1777. From 1785 to 1787, he travelled to India, producing many

miniatures and sketches and when he returned home to England he stayed with his

brother in Seal.

 

In 1788 Ozias painted a portrait of Madame Bacelli, the Duke’s mistress and their

illegitimate son, John Frederick Sackville. He is also thought at this time, to have

painted portraits of Edward Austen, Cassandra and Jane. In a small village like Seal

and as the vicar’s brother, Ozias was obviously well known to the Walters, and he was

actually resident in Seal during the visit of Jane and her family.

 

When William Hampson Walter died in April 1798 Jane sent the following letter of

condolence to her cousin Philadelphia at Seal:

 

‘As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere

Condolance on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my

Father this morning.- The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe

affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with

him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.- But

the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually reconcile you

to it the better;- the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed

in Heaven.

 

This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my aunt, & to all his family &

friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment

he was able to receive from this World for some time past, & of the small degree of pain

attending his last hours.- I will not press you to write before you would otherwise feel

equal to it, but when you can do it without pain, I hope we shall receive from you as good

an account of my Aunt & Yourself, as can be expected in these early days of Sorrow.- My

Father and Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear Cousin, Yours Affectionately’.

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The Grey House, Church Street, Seal, thought to be the home of William Hampson Walter and his family, half-brother of Rev'd George Austen.

Jane Austen's great uncle, Francis Austen (1698-1791), by Ozias Humphrey.The original is in the Graves Art gallery, Sheffield.

The Red House built by Thomas Couchman in 1686 and purchased by Jane's great uncle Francis in 1743. This fine example of a William and Mary town housestill serves today as offices for a firm of solicitors.

A copy of the Ozias portrait hangs in The Red House entrance hall alongside portraits of Francis Austen's law firm partners.

The great Elizabethan mansion of Knole

John Sackville, third Duke of Dorset, to whom Francis Austen was lawyer

and agent.